Apple pays non-US income taxes of just 2 per cent

The company is likely awaiting a "repatriation tax holiday".

Apple's annual tax return (pdf), filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, reveals that it paid just 2 per cent tax on "foreign" (non-US) earnings in 2012.

The news, highlighted by the Sunday Times' Simon Duke, can be found on page 61 of the document, which reveals that the company owed $1,203m taxes on foreign pretax earnings of $36.8bn, and deferred payment on $490m in order to realise a tax bill of $713m this year. Even if the deferred taxes were paid in full, the company would still be paying an effective rate of just over 3 per cent.

International sales accounted for 61 per cent of Apple's business in the last year, and so many are likely to cry foul at the low proportion of taxes which it pays in the areas in which it carries out the majority of its business.

Apple, like many multinational corporations, employs many strategies to legally lower its tax bill. The company bases its entire Europe, Middle East and Africa division in Cork, Ireland, a low-tax jurisdiction, and also operates its worldwide sales and distribution network from there. In addition, the company is famous for the large amount of non-repatriated cash it sits on.

This is money which it has earned on foreign sales, and wishes to bring back to the US, but has not yet done so. Like many companies, Apple is hoping for a "repatriation tax holiday", where it can move that income back to the US without having to pay income tax on it. The most recent holiday was in 2004, and saw companies that brought back profits taxed at 5 per cent, instead of 35 per cent. Until Apple decides what to do with those cash holdings, the company is likely to continue deferring tax owed on them.

In addition, the company doesn't have to pay any tax on foreign earnings which are reinvested overseas – it has spent over $5bn this way in the 2012 tax year.

While the 2 per cent paid on international profits may harm Apple's reputation outside the US, the company still pays an effective tax rate of over 25 per cent overall, and provides a breakdown of the deductions that reduce this from the 35 per cent baseline corporation tax rate of the US.

Updated with credit to Sunday Times.

Apple's Headquarters in Cupertino, California. Photograph: Joe Ravi, CC-BY-SA 3.0

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.